Minnesota Power, industrials rebut effort to shut Boswell coal unit

The docket where Minnesota Power is asking the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission for approval of a rate rider to pass along emissions project costs at the Boswell Energy Center Unit 4 is not a proper forum for trying to get that plant shut down.

That was the main point that Minnesota Power made in an Aug. 19 filing at the commission. On July 23, the commission issued a notice requesting limited comments in the rider docket. On Aug. 9, Minnesota Power, the state Department of Commerce-Division of Energy Resources, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA) submitted initial comments.

Said Minnesota Power about the comments from MCEA, which wants this plant shut: “MCEA has to-date been unsuccessful in derailing Minnesota Power’s efforts to fully comply with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard Rule (‘MATS’) and the Minnesota Mercury Emissions Reduction Act (‘MERA’).”

The utility added that the commission soundly rejected MCEA’s petition to require an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) for two main reasons:

  • petitioners have failed to establish by material evidence that the project, because of its nature or location, may have the potential for significant environmental effects; and
  • the project is currently undergoing the environmental review process the Legislature has prescribed for projects of its type.

“Now, after the Commission requested additional information from Minnesota Power stemming from the discussion during the EAW hearing on June 6, 2013, MCEA seeks to further delay the Commission’s decision and impose a standard of review that was never contemplated by the Legislature in enacting MERA,” the utility said. “Furthermore, based on the EAW hearing discussions, MCEA’s advocacy appears to not be driven by Minnesota Power’s plan that will significantly reduce mercury, particular matter and sulfur dioxide emissions, but rather that by investing in Boswell Energy Center Unit 4 (‘BEC4’), Minnesota Power will continue to operate a baseload coal facility. The same facility that the Department’s August 9, 2013, comments reemphasized is: ‘[n]ot retired even under an assumption of a ‘stringent’ level of EPA compliance costs.’”

The purpose of MERA and MATS is to retrofit coal facilities, not shut them down, Minnesota Power added. In the MERA statute, it says the commission “shall review and evaluate a utility’s mercury emissions reduction plans submitted under this section. In its review, the commission shall consider the environmental and public health benefits, the agency’s determination of technical feasibility, competitiveness of customer rates, and cost-effectiveness of the utility’s proposed mercury control initiatives in light of the Pollution Control Agency’s review under paragraph (a).”

The Legislature directed the commission to approve plans for Boswell Energy Center Unit 3 (BEC3) and Unit 4 (BEC4) “that the commission reasonably expects will come closest to achieving total mercury reductions at targeted and supplemental units owned by the utility equivalent to a goal of 90 percent reduction of mercury emissions at the utility’s targeted units by December 31, 2018, in a manner that provides for increased environmental and public health benefits without imposing excessive costs on the utility’s customers.”

Minnesota Power emphasized in its Aug. 19 rebuttal: “The focus in this standard is mercury reduction at the utility’s units, not whether the units should be repowered, shutdown or replaced.”

Utility’s large industrial customers support Boswell 4 project petition

The Large Power Intervenor’s (LPI) group, made up of some of Minnesota Power’s largest customers, filed Aug. 19 comments in support of the utility and opposing the comment of the environmental intervenors (EI), including MCEA.

LPI said it believes the commission should reject the arguments in the EI comment for three reasons.

  • First, Minnesota Power and the MPCA complied with MERA in this matter.
  • Second, the environmental intervenors’ arguments misinterpret the purpose of MERA.
  • Finally, the environmental eanalysis is faulty and has already been performed by the state Department of Commerce.

“The Environmental Intervenors are attempting incorporate their Strategist modeling analysis and combine it with an erroneous interpretation of Minnesota law to demand more analysis on whether to retire BEC 4 and replace it with natural gas fired generation,” said the industrials on the point that this docket is about retrofits, not shutdowns. “This argument should fail because, as explained above, it is based on an incorrect interpretation of State statute. Furthermore, Environmental Intervenors’ argument ignores the fact that MERA is intended to be used for evaluating utilities’ plans to retrofit coal-fired generating units. The Commission should not use this docket to debate the continued operation of coal-fired generation.”

The appropriate forum for that debate is Minnesota Power’s pending resource planning docket, the industrials said. The environmental intervenors have been an active participant in that docket. “But they elected not to raise any of the technical concerns regarding Strategist modeling on BEC 4 in their comment or reply comment,” the industrials added. “The Environmental Intervenors’ attempt to now raise concerns that could have been asserted months ago runs afoul of the Commission’s scheduling order in the resource planning docket and parties’ explicitly stated concerns regarding supplemental comments and unnecessary delays.”

The LPI group includes: ArcelorMittal USA (Minorca Mine); Boise Inc.; Enbridge Energy LP; Hibbing Taconite; Mesabi Nugget Delaware LLC; NewPage Corp.; PolyMet Mining; Sappi Cloquet LLC; UPM-Blandin Paper; USG Interiors LLC; United States Steel (Keewatin Taconite and Minntac Mine); and United Taconite LLC.

In August 2012, Minnesota Power filed a mercury emission reduction plan for its Boswell Energy Center Unit 4 under MERA. The company proposed to retrofit Boswell Unit 4 to reduce multiple pollutants, and in so doing comply with MERA as well as other federal law.

Boswell Unit 4, which is capable of producing 585 MW (net), has been meeting the region’s energy needs since the 1980s. The Boswell Unit 4 project is described as a “multi-pollutant control” project, since it includes installation of a semi-dry flue gas desulfurization (FGD) system, a fabric filter, and a powdered activated carbon injection system.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.